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Brookfield students learn about empathy, bullying through Climb Theatre interplay

Relating to what others are feeling is essential, local educators say

Ryan Bergman and Nicole Wells of Climb Theatre act through a scenario where Ryan found some money on the bus, and Nicole tells him to turn in the money to an adult during a presentation on Empathy for all Burleigh Elementary School students on Feb 20.

Ryan Bergman and Nicole Wells of Climb Theatre act through a scenario where Ryan found some money on the bus, and Nicole tells him to turn in the money to an adult during a presentation on Empathy for all Burleigh Elementary School students on Feb 20. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Feb. 26, 2013

As stories about bullying in schools, on school buses and on playgrounds circulate nationwide, a Minnesota-based theater teamed up with two Elmbrook schools to teach young children ways to prevent it from happening.

Climb Theatre presented 40-minute empathy interplays for all of the students at Brookfield and Burleigh elementary schools last week, meant to show students what it's like to be on the receiving end of bullying.

Climb's artists write, produce and present plays in the upper Midwest on topics like bullying, self-control, respect, friendship, acceptance of differences, methamphetamine-use prevention and the environment. It has provided programming to schools for 38 years.

"If you can empathize with a victim, you are less likely to do it or allow it to happen around you," Lauren Diesch, outreach conductor for Climb Theatre said.

Feeling for the victim

A show for each grade level, kindergarten through fifth, was performed for students at both schools, with lessons adjusted for each age group.

"I think the students took a lot away from this," Michelle Aprahamian, program support teacher at Brookfield Elementay School, said. "They performed interactive skits and asked the students how they felt afterward. This is a proactive way to help prevent bullying issues."

Climb contacted Brookfield Elementary School, and Aprahamian scheduled plays at Burleigh Elementary School during the same week since the troupe was in town.

"There are many kinds of bullying, verbal, physical, and even cyber-bullying," she said. "It's important for students to understand what it would feel like to be in the victim's shoes."

Students practiced determining emotion from body language and tone of voice, examples of empathetic and non-empathetic behavior, and the consequences of failing to use empathy.

"Our children learned three steps of empathy: reading body language, imagine how you would feel, and to be kind," Teresa Curley, Burleigh Elementary School principal, said. "Our students are still talking about all that they learned."

Thinking it through

Examples of one of the skits had actors pointing and laughing at another character, then asking the students how they would feel and react to that situation, and what they would do to help the victim.

"It's never too early to start having discussions with kids about bullying," Aprahamian said.

Information from the National Education Association indicates that six out of 10 students witness bullying in school at least once a day, and that harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school shooting incidents.

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